Gains, Reluctance, and Resistance in Projects

Gains and resistance in projects are common. All projects generate indeed a change in the life of many of their stakeholders.
One root condition to give life to the project purpose is the program team understanding of the population attitude regarding the expected project outputs and outcomes.

A simple grid evaluates the project impact on stakeholder’s

The PMO has a tool to propose to the project team. This tool is the grid of figure 1.

This grid evaluates for each segment of stakeholders their gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change.

Figure 1 gives an example. It shows the gain / reluctance / resistance evaluation for a population of financial controllers. They are going to join a new Shared Service Center. Also, this center is far from the historical company headquarters.

The grid describes each gain / reluctance / resistance. Each receives a category: imagery (I) / symbolic (S) / real (R). We then evaluate their impact as strong (St) or weak (We).

Gain and losses grid PMO

Figure 1 – Evaluation of gains, reluctance, and resistance of financial controllers moving to a new Shared Service Center drives an action plan.

For each population, the project team must do something. This is the column “recommended action”.

Stakeholders show synergy or opposition

People show synergy or opposition because they see gains or losses in the change induced by the project.

What are the gains? The gains are the personal benefits they expect from the project. These gains can be, for example, a more exciting job, a higher salary, and a great team ambiance.

Here is an example of gains. Who does not enjoy a glass of champagne? In the French Champagne “maisons”, the cellar workers traditionally enjoy the privilege of making for themselves a small Champagne cuvee produced from the finest wines. This cuvee is an enjoyable gain for them through its finesse and elegance, and also through the pride it gives them.

But there may also be losses. The losses can be real and endanger the most fundamental, pragmatic, and tangible needs.

Such needs can be relocation far from their family center of gravity and lesser compensation or benefits. They can concern the imagery when the change concerns the psychological and sociologic level and its fears, beliefs, and interpretations.

For example, people may have a wrong representation of their level of autonomy and of their capacity to take initiatives. The losses can finally be symbolic in relation with the culture, the legitimacy, and the social standing.

The fear of such losses keeps people to react with temporary reluctance or durable resistance to the project changes.

Listening to people is the key success factor

Listening to people is the key success factor. It is the basis for establishing both a social dynamic map and an evaluation of their gains, reluctance, and resistance.

Symptoms are subjective signs that people notice. Signs are more objective and measurable. Both are important. And Project Managers, PMOs, and any project team member has the duty to detect them and input them into the project stakeholder management plan.

Thoai Phong Nguyen[1] is a consultant expert in company transformation. He has been the architect of a transformation framework for several difficult projects with strong social contents. He used to look for symptoms belonging to three categories:

  1. Symptoms related to the end of the historical state
  2. Symptoms appearing during the transition phase
  3. Symptoms born at the early stage of a new state

Among the symptoms “of the end”, you find many important attitudes. One is the winners / losers perception. Another one is the “they / us” distinction. And there are also other signs.

Among them: an abnormal search for information, inward looking or defensive attitudes, fear, the loss of consensus, and of course an increase in absenteeism. When things go bad, action paralysis, slow decision-making, disobedience to the instructions, and an increase in quality incidents are clear symptoms of disorder.

The transition phase may see symptoms like resentment, anger, depression, bargaining, new real or unconscious barriers. But also acceptance, expectations, or new significance.

When you do not accompany change well, people start looking for symbols, asking for rules and instructions, or expressing regrets for the past. The social cohesion deteriorates, and key people resign.

Once in the new start, people progressively forgot the past. New initiatives and positive attitudes arise. They understand the logic of the change. New leaders rise, and productivity increases. People adopt the new reality. They develop a sense of pride in belonging, a reinforced social cohesion, and they confirm or revisit the corpus of values

Conclusion: the key role of PMOs

PMOs are key actors in this process. They organize very early on the progressive evolution of the behaviors required by a project. They emphasize the gains, and they act to reduce the losses, real or feared.

Once they have established the project purpose, they can evaluate the stakeholders’ gains, reluctance, and resistance when confronted to the program change. This understanding allows to prepare answers reinforcing the gains or alleviating the reluctance and the resistance.

To Your Continued Success


High-Impact PMO


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